Two months after Minnesota voters went to the polls, Democrat Al Franken has been declared the winner of the U.S. Senate race, but his opponent, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, is ready to challenge the results in court.
Franken, the comedian and former radio host, won the razor-close election recount by just 225 votes out of nearly 3 million cast on Nov. 4. Speaking in Saint Paul, Franken declared victory but acknowledged the potential for an ongoing legal battle.
"After 62 days, after the careful and painstaking hand inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by elections officials and volunteers across the state, I am proud and humbled to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota," Franken said. ""There may still be additional legal proceedings related to our recount. But I'm now in the business of serving the people of Minnesota."
An attorney for the Coleman campaign said in a statement this afternoon that the campaign will file a lawsuit "within the next 24 hours" to contest the results announced by the state Canvassing Board today. Coleman has a seven-day window to file a lawsuit contesting the election before the election certificate is signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.
"The actions today by the Canvassing Board are but the first step in what, unfortunately, will now have to be a longer process. This process isn't at the end; it is now just at the beginning," attorney Tony Trimble said in a statement. "While we appreciate the effort of this board to do the work, the reality is that any certification of vote totals at this point is only preliminary."
In his public statement in St. Paul this afternoon, Franken seemed to push Coleman to abandon his legal challenge to ensure Minnesota has two senators when the new Congress convenes this week.
"Norm has worked hard for this state and this country, and I hope to ask for his help to ensure that Minnesotans can continue to count on receiving excellent constituent services from their two senators without interruption," Franken said.
Coleman will make a public statement tomorrow afternoon in Minnesota, according to his campaign.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the race in Minnesota "over."
"Al Franken has won the election," Reid said. "There comes a time where you have to acknowledge that the race in Minnesota is over. The race in Minnesota is over. Now it's only a little finger-pointing."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Minnesota election "has not yet been determined."
Coleman entered the recount, which began Nov. 19, ahead by 215 votes, but state law calls for a recount when the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent of the total vote.
Earlier today, the Minnesota State Supreme Court rejected a request from Coleman to count 654 additional rejected absentee ballots. Before the canvassing board met, the Coleman campaign said the court ruling makes a lawsuit inevitable.
"The Coleman campaign has consistently and continually fought to have every validly cast vote counted, and for the integrity of Minnesota's election system, we will not stop now. The Minnesota Supreme Court has made sure that an election contest will need to be filed quickly to ensure that an accurate and valid recount can be achieved," Coleman attorney Fritz Knaack said in a statement.
The legal process could take weeks. Coleman's suit will focus on three key areas: those 654 rejected absentee ballots, an additional 150 ballots from Democatic-leaning areas that the Coleman campaign claims were double-counted for Franken and 130 ballots that were lost after election night but were included in the final tally after the recount.
The state Supreme Court ruled today that those issues would be better handled in a post-recount lawsuit.
Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson would appoint a three-judge panel to oversee the next stage in the legal process.
Franken, a comedian, writer and radio talk show host, is perhaps best known for his stint on "Saturday Night Live," where he played self-help guru Stuart Smalley and served as a long-time writer. Franken was recently a political talk show host on the left-leaning Air America radio network.
Coleman served one term in the Senate after defeating Walter Mondale in 2002. Mondale stepped in as the Democratic candidate that year after two-term Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash 11 days before Election Day.
Coleman's term as senator ended Saturday.